Missouri needs to do more to improve the quality of classroom teachers, a national study says.
A three-year study of state regulations regarding preparation and licensing of teachers gave Missouri and 17 other states low marks.
But a state education official insists that Missouri's classrooms have quality teachers. "I think Missouri certainly is in the top half if you compare us to the rest of the nation," said Rusty Rosenkoetter, coordinator of education certification for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The state licenses about 8,000 new teachers each year. At the same time, about 7,000 teachers retire annually, she said. In all, Missouri has about 80,000 licensed teachers in public schools and about 12,000 licensed teachers in private schools.
The study was released late last month by the not-for-profit National Council on Teacher Quality in Washington, D.C. The organization advocates for reforms to increase the number of effective teachers. The study found that nationwide:
* States don't adequately oversee teacher preparation programs.
* States neglect content preparation for elementary school teachers.
* States don't ensure that special education teachers are well prepared to teach students with disabilities.
* States lack true alternate routes to teacher certification.
* States don't do enough to weed out ineffective teachers.
Missouri received low marks -- C's and D's -- in its regulations dealing with quality, licensing and evaluation of teachers, state governance of teacher preparation programs, alternate routes to teacher certification and preparation of special education teachers.
The council believes elementary school teachers should be required to take more academic subject courses, such as American history. Missouri, like most states, requires its elementary education majors to take courses in four main academic areas: math, science, social studies and communication arts.
Would-be elementary school teachers have to have a liberal-arts background, Rosenkoetter said. "They don't have to take American history. However, I can think of few college graduates who haven't had American history," she said.
The study also says Missouri's and most other states' alternate certification policies don't meet the needs of nontraditional teaching candidates who have worked in other professions and now want to pursue teaching careers.
"They think the alternate route requires too much effort," Rosenkoetter said of the council's criticism. "They would like a more fast-track system."
But she questioned the wisdom of such a system. "I am not sure how you do that and maintain quality," she said.
Missouri requires such teaching candidates to take certain education courses to obtain state teaching licenses. About 2 percent of elementary and secondary education teachers in Missouri have alternate certification, Rosenkoetter said.
The study says Missouri and other states don't require prospective special education teachers to take academic subject courses that relate to courses they would be teaching in school districts.
That criticism has merit, Rosenkoetter said, but changing the training of special education teachers could be difficult.
If Missouri had such a requirement, school districts would have to hire more special education teachers or resort to a model where special education teachers would be in the same classrooms with regular teachers, she said.
"I think it is not an easy problem to fix," she said.
States, Missouri included, fail to hold teacher preparation programs accountable for the quality of their graduates, according to the report.
Only 14 states require annual performance evaluations of classroom teachers, the study said.
Missouri school districts annually evaluate teachers during their first five years of teaching, Rosenkoetter said.
"At the end of five years in Missouri, teachers are granted tenure. After that, they are usually evaluated every other year," she said.
Local school officials say the current evaluation system works. They say there's no need to evaluate tenured teachers every year.
All teachers in Missouri have to take professional development classes to maintain their state certifications, said Dr. Rita Fisher, assistant superintendent of instruction for the Jackson School District.
Southeast Missouri State University trains teachers, graduating about 350 education majors each year.
"Students from our specific programs are really sought after because we have good programs," said Dr. Beverly Petch-Hogan, interim chairwoman of the elementary, early and special education department at Southeast.
While the study focuses on the policies of state education departments, Fisher said teacher quality ultimately rests with the individual school districts. "It is just so important that individual districts take responsibility for that," she said.
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Missouri's report card
The National Council on Teacher Quality studied states' preparation and licensing of teachers. Missouri's scores:Meeting teacher quality objectives: D
Teacher licensing: D
Teacher evaluation: C
State oversight of teacher preparation programs: D
Alternate routes to teacher certification: C
Preparation of special education teachers: D
SOURCE: National Council on Teacher Quality